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Vol. 54, No. 2 • January 2017 • .pdf version
Once again, there's no shortage of courage
By MIKE WATERS / Syracuse Post-Standard
The USBWA presents a number of awards, but none more important or meaningful than the Most Courageous Award.
The Most Courageous Award was established in 1978. That year, the award went to John Kratzer, a cancer victim who played at William & Mary.
While overcoming a wide range of adversities, the recipients of the Most Courageous Award have embodied similar traits over the years, including strength, dignity, grace and an unshakeable resolve to press on. Many have become advocates on behalf of others going through equally difficult circumstances. The award has been presented to players, coaches, administrators, even entire teams.
My first connection to the award came in 1992 when Pete Pavia received the honor. Pavia, a referee and Upstate New York native, officiated games even as he battled cancer for 13 years before passing away. I knew Pete as an outstanding referee, but more importantly, a sweet, caring man who loved the game and the people in it.
The award presentation is almost always the most emotional and memorable moment during the USBWA's annual meeting at the Final Four.
I doubt that anyone in the ballroom in Houston last April will ever forget Samantha Smith, the young widow of former Butler player Andrew Smith, and how she reminded everyone of her husband's fight against cancer and how she continues their efforts to raise awareness for a bone marrow registry.
The list of nominees for this year's award have each faced some tragedy. It's not just that each has battled against the adversity, but how they've handled the situation. They've pushed back or forged ahead. And in some cases, they've stood up for others.
Here are the nominees:
Chris Burns, Bryant: Burns, an assistant coach at his alma mater, is the only openly gay men's basketball coach at the NCAA's Division I level. Burns revealed his sexual orientation to the Bryant coaches and players a little over a year ago and has spoken out publicly.
Kyler Erickson, Omaha: Erickson, a senior, was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after he missed a year while dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a high school senior, Erickson witnessed a shooting at his school in which a student shot and killed a vice principal. Erickson was next door in the nurse's office.
Antonio Green, Texas-Rio Grande Valley: Raised by single mom in Memphis, Green became a father himself at age 17. He still managed to earn a scholarship to UTRGV. Last February, his older brother was shot and killed. Green has moved his mother and daughter out of Memphis.
Erkam Kiris, UT Arlington: Kiris, a freshman, was in Turkey last summer when military rebels staged a coup to overthrow the Turkish government. He was practicing with the Turkish National team when he found Istanbul in upheaval. He spent an extra 25 days in Turkey, trying to leave the country. He went to police stations and embassies three to four times a week before managing to secure the proper documentation to travel out of the country.
Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: The teammates have taken prominent stances on social issues. Koenig, who is half Native American and a member of the Ho Chunk Nation in Wisconsin, has supported of the pipeline standoff at Standing Rock in North Dakota, traveling there on a fall weekend. Hayes has been outspoken on the plight of black Americans, especially in light of recent police shootings. As part of his protest, he stands two steps behind his teammates during the national anthem.
Trey McCrory, Northwestern State: McCrory is a legally blind graduate assistant. He can see up to about 5 to 7 feet before his vision becomes blurry. He grew up a fan of Northwestern State's basketball teams. He was a team manager as an undergrad and continues to work with the coaching staff despite his physical limitations.
Emmanuel Omogbo, Colorado State: Omogbo, a senior, lost his parents, his niece and nephew in a house fire in Maryland last February. He played in a game two days after their deaths before taking a break for the funeral and then returning to Fort Collins.
Ray Smith, Arizona: After missing his senior year of high school and his freshman season at Arizona because of two separate ACL tears, Smith got back on the court earlier this season. But he suffered yet another torn ACL. Smith, just 19, made the difficult decision to retire from the game.
Josh Speidel, Vermont: When he was a senior in high school, Speidel had already committed to Vermont. However, he was involved in a serious car accident and sustained a traumatic brain injury. Two years later, he has made a remarkable recovery, defying his doctors' initial prognosis. He is currently a freshman on the team.
Matt Willms, UTEP: The 7-foot center has undergone two major surgeries. The first was in 2014 to repair a slat tear in the labrum of his right shoulder. The second was in January 2016 to repair a fracture of the navicular bone in his right foot, which can be career-ending for big men.
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